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In Non-Jat Consolidation, BJP Replaces Manohar Lal With OBC Nayab Saini As Haryana CM

Move Heralds Split With JJP

In a state where Jats have dominated the politics of power for most part, ever since Haryana was carved out as a separate state from Greater Punjab in November 1966, only two non-Jat Chief Ministers have held their own for multiple full or substantial terms.

The first was the infamous proponent of ‘Aya Ram, Gaya Ram’ politics Bhajan Lal, who served his first term at the head of a Janta Party (JP) government, and then switched allegiance to the Indian National Congress (INC) to serve another two terms as CM.

The only other non-Jat leader to stand out as chief minister, serving one full term and one nearly full, was Manohar Lal, who not so unexpectedly tendered his resignation along with his entire cabinet to Governor Bandaru Dattatreya on March 12, which was promptly accepted.

In Non-Jat Consolidation, BJP Replaces Manohar Lal With OBC Nayab Saini As Haryana CM, LifeinchdThe resignation heralded a change in the leadership in the BJP-led government in the state, on the stroke of the announcement of the Lok Sabha elections, and months before the state assembly elections become due. BJP had won all 10 Lok Sabha seats in the 2019 general elections, though its sitting MP from Hisar Bijendra Singh recently resigned from the party to join the Congress. He simultaneously resigned from his Lok Sabha seat.

The decision to replace Manohar Lal, who could not shed the public perception of anti-incumbency sentiment against his government, was at most hastened with the parting of ways between the BJP and its post-poll alliance partner in the government since 2019, the Jannayak Janta Party (JJP). Though both parties are attributing the split to disagreement over seat sharing in the Lok Sabha elections, this is apparently not the whole truth.

In Non-Jat Consolidation, BJP Replaces Manohar Lal With OBC Nayab Saini As Haryana CM, LifeinchdThe signs of the imminent break from JJP were quite evident when Nayab Singh Saini from the other backward classes (OBC) community, who took oath as chief minister after being promptly chosen as its leader by the state BJP legislative party, earlier replaced a Jat leader Om Prakash Dhankar as the state BJP chief in October 2023, as part of the social engineering strategy of the party.

Dhankar, who was made state party chief in July 2020, months after the party took the support of the predominantly Jat supported JJP to retain power in the state for a second term,  with the purpose of striking a balance between the Jat and non-Jat communities, apparently did not succeed in his mission.

In Non-Jat Consolidation, BJP Replaces Manohar Lal With OBC Nayab Saini As Haryana CM, LifeinchdThe party has never had any worthwhile connect with the Jats, and the prolonged and unsavoury confrontation between the BJP-led central government and the farmers, including from Haryana (predominantly Jats), leading up to the government’s humiliating withdrawal of the new farm laws, made the party’s relationship with the Jats even worse.

With the woo-Jats mission an abject failure, the party was forced to fall back on consolidating its vote bank among the non-Jat communities, including upper castes, Aggarwal community, Punjabis, SCs and OBCs, who make up roughly ¾th of the total population.

And to divide the Jat votes it was important for the BJP to let go off the JJP, which, along with its much depleted previous parent party Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), still has the capacity to cut into the Jat vote bank of the principal opposition party, the Congress, which has of late found greater traction among the Jats especially after the renewed farmers’ agitation.

The BJP’s choice of an OBC as Chief Minister is a very important part of its operation ‘Non-Jat Vote Bank consolidation’. It also does not ruffle Manohar Lal’s feathers since Nayab Singh Saini is considered to be his own protégé.

The former chief minister is known to have been instrumental in shaping Nayab Singh Saini’s political career right from becoming an MLA, and then minister of state in Manohar Lal’s council of ministers during his first term, member of Parliament from Kurukshetra (he holds the position till date, but will have to resign soon) and state party chief.

In Non-Jat Consolidation, BJP Replaces Manohar Lal With OBC Nayab Saini As Haryana CM, LifeinchdEven in being chosen as its leader by the BJP legislative party, Nayab Singh Saini had the blessings of Manohar Lal and the former acknowledged this by touching the latter’s feet before taking oath as chief minister of Haryana.

In facilitating a smooth transition, Manohar Lal’s stature in the party as a stalwart from Haryana appears to have risen further. It is almost certain that the party has set him free from the responsibilities as chief minister to strengthen the hands of the party in the Lok Sabha elections. The party would like to field its strongest leaders as Lok Sabha candidates and Manohar Lal could be one of them. He will also be among the party’s star campaigners across the state, and probably beyond.

Coming back to the swearing-in ceremony, Nayab Singh Saini took oath of allegiance along with five ministers, all retained from the Manohar Lal cabinet – Kanwar Pal, Mool Chand Sharma, Jai Parkash Dalal, Banwari Lal (all BJP) and Ranjit Singh Chautala (independent MLA).

There was speculation that one of more deputy chief ministers might be named, representing other major communities, as BJP has done in other states in recent times, but it was not to be, at least for the time being.

Among the first tasks before the state BJP leadership will be to placate previous senior cabinet minister Anil Vij, who apparently did not hide his displeasure at the turn of events and left the legislative party meeting in a huff. He also did not turn up at the swearing-in ceremony at the Haryana Raj Bhawan later in the day despite his name learnt to have been included in the initial list of ministers to take oath.

The BJP is quite confident of having the numbers, even without the JJP, to win a trust vote in the House. It has 41 members in the House of 90 and needs 46 for a majority. It claims to have the support of seven others, including independents.

Saini said he had handed over letters of support from 48 MLAs to the Governor while staking his claim to form the government. He was accompanied to the Raj Bhawan by the two central party observors Union minister Arjun Munda and party general secretary Tarun Chugh, besides Manohar Lal and central party in-charge for Haryana and former Tripura chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb.

In any case, with just a few months left for elections to the state assembly to be announced, there is unlikely to be any attempt by the opposition to pull down the government.

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